Maybe you’re pretty confident in your writing ability; maybe you’re in the “fake it ‘til you make it” camp. Either way, having a concrete writing process can help you become a better writer.
In fact, every writer goes through this process — from you and me to Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. And we go through it for almost everything we write, from blog posts to books.
Depending on what you are writing, you may spend more or less time on any given step, but the steps remain the same. If you train yourself to work through the steps systematically, you’ll see your writing improve, and soon, the process will become second nature.
I’ve created a simple, printable PDF version of this list. Click here to download this list for free.
The Writing Process
No matter what you’re writing, you will move through the same steps of the creative process:
Every piece of writing you tackle should have a plan. If you’re writing off the cuff, or just when “inspiration hits,” you’re actually making things harder for yourself than they need to be.
If you have a list of topics you’ve brainstormed, go through and pick the one you want to write next, then use the following prompts to create a plan.
- Type/Format: (Is it a list post? An interview? An infographic?)
- Sales Cycle?
- Business goal:
- Proposed publish date:
- List what you need to do to create this post:
- contact experts?
- have graphics made?
- write it?
Every time you sit down to write, you should have some form of this laid out that you can look at. It may be more or less detailed depending on how epic the post is going to be.
You may also have some notes about this article. I use the “HOW” column in my editorial calendar to make notes about what I want to say, save links to web sites I want to reference, etc.
You’re going to want facts, quotes, and expert opinions to back up your ideas and assertions in your posts. You might look for:
- Case studies
- Ideas from respected authorities
Start by just Googling your topic. Take a look at the top search results. Be sure to check the source: you only want facts and ideas from reputable sources.
Read or skim the articles and look for relevant information. Copy or make note of things you want to remember in a document, Evernote note, or other file. You’ll want to be able to easily gather all your notes and materials when you sit down to write.
NOTE: I know none of you would do this, but remember DON’T PLAGIARIZE! If you want to use a quote, go ahead and use it, but give proper attribution. Always make note of where you found your research so you can give attribution.
Add your own thoughts to your notes. Remember, you don’t want to be just regurgitating what others have done, but adding new ideas and value to the topic.
The research stage is also when you would conduct interviews, contact experts for quotes, or gather any other resources you might need to create your post.
At its most basic, all content follows the same structure:
Where you get people’s attention and make a promise about what they’ll get if they keep reading.
Point 1 – Subhead
Usually some background information about WHY the reader should care.
Point 2 – Subhead
Usually the HOW portion of the article
Including a call to action.
A book chapter would have more and longer sections, a blog post would have fewer and shorter sections, but the idea is the same.
I have put together a few templates in my free Eyes Only Member Library that you can use as outlines for your blog posts. These templates can be used as outlines to get you organized for writing. Using an outline, you can begin to fill in the details and ideas you collected in the research stage.
I like to start with the subheads; each subhead should make a promise about the information that follows. Once I have my subheads chosen, I know exactly how the post will flow.
It’s also a good idea to look at what else you need for this blog post during the organization stage. If you need to hire a graphic designer, record a video, design an infographic, etc. it’s important to get that all figured out now. Hire your freelancers at this point as necessary.
Easier said than done, right??
My favorite thing to do is to block out a chunk of time with nothing else to do but write. I tend to write my own blog posts and copy on Saturday mornings. I don’t have to worry about doing work for clients or anything else: it’s all about the writing.
- Write as though you’re addressing one person. Picture your ideal reader in your mind and write directly to her.
- Start in the middle. I find it’s often easier to develop my thoughts if I start with one of the sub topics. This is why having an outline is helpful.
- Develop your introduction. It’s usually easier to come up with a compelling introduction when you already know what the rest of the article says.
- Write a strong conclusion. Tie up all your points together and give the reader a takeaway.
- Include ONE call to action. Be very specific and tell them exactly what you want them to do.
- Spend a good deal of time on your headline. I like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer, which can help rank your ideas.
It may sound silly, but it’s important to schedule a break between when you finish writing and when you edit or publish.
Because when you’re in the thick of creating, you’re too close to the information to be a good judge of it.
Professional writers almost always plan to step away from a piece before they edit or publish. That’s why it’s important to PLAN to create your content in advance — so you’re not rushed up against a deadline, and you have time to take a break.
Ah editing. Ernest Hemingway famously said, “Write drunk; edit sober.” Apart from his alcoholism, I think the thing to take from this is that editing is almost more important than the writing. (Almost!)
- Read through the whole article from the perspective of your ideal reader. Does it make sense? Is it logical? Does it serve a need? Is it unique?
- Is it useful?
- Is it in-depth?
- Is it unique?
- Is it emotional?
- Is it better than what’s already out there?
- Does it improve your readers’ lives?
- Will it have a measurable impact for your business?
- Fix organizational problems first. Rearrange sections or sentences as necessary to create a more logical flow.
- Look at your introduction next. Make the first sentence and paragraph as intriguing as possible. Stick to your main point.
- Finally, finess your language.
- Make your verbs active. Replace “is, are, was, were, be, being, been” with active words wherever possible.
- Wherever possible, replace adjectives with more specific nouns.
- Cut unnecessary words and phrases.
- Simplify complicated sentences and paragraphs. (Aim for an 8th grade reading level.)
- Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
You may choose to do more than one round of edits on an epic post (the bigger the post, the more attention you need to give it), or bring in a friend or editor to help.
And then, you’re done!
The final steps might be to format the post nicely in your blogging software, create and add images, add “click to tweet” tweetables, etc. But your post is now written, and you can schedule it to be published.
Don’t forget, you can download a free, printable version of this list to keep on your desk and work through each week. The more you practice this writing process, the better your writing will become!